Autonomous vehicles – the new public transport?

The automotive industry had been in a phase of transformation for several years. We can put forward two hypotheses about the major technological changes:

First, manual driving will be increasingly replaced by autonomous driving.
Secondly, individual mobility is being transformed into collective mobility.

What is new: these two trends are beginning to be transposed. The difference between individual mobility and mass transit could disappear – that’s at least one conclusion that could be drawn from Mov’eo’s Imagine Mobility Forum that took place on June 1, 2017 at ESTACA – Campus Paris-Saclay.

The pleasure of being driven?

In an introductory presentation, Nadine Leclair, Expert Fellow of the Renault Management Committee, emphasized that autonomous driving is not in contradiction with manual driving. Renault’s goal will be to

“keep the pleasure of driving or being driven.”

This sentence seems to us to be quite exceptional because it consoles the tension between manual and autonomous driving: the fact of giving up the steering wheel is here associated with “pleasure”, a notion that was historically reserved for manual driving. In this perspective, the difference between “driving or being driven” no longer appears to be contradictory. It is simply a question of two ways of driving a car that arouse the same emotions.

It is not wrong that “being driven” can be a pleasure, but this emotion is currently associated with another means of collective transport: it is train travel that allows us to sleep, read, work and exchange with other travelers.
And it is exactly these promises that manufacturers are putting forward to promote the autonomous car. Nevertheless, we must add that “letting oneself be driven” in a car will be a new form of pleasure. And a question arises: When the car offers the emotions of the train, will it come close to the railway experience?

We are moving towards collective mobility,” says Leclair. According to her, car manufacturers are reacting to this trend with a “broadening of the portfolio”: the automotive industry will continue to offer individual cars, but will also develop shuttles.

Rémy Bastien, President of VEDECOM and Vice President Automotive Prospective at Renault, goes on to say that autonomous cars will take two forms: first, automakers plan to market a model with limited autonomous driving; second, they will offer fully automated shuttles or robotaxis.

In June 2017, a shuttle of this type (Navya) will be tested on the Parvis de la Défense in Paris. According to David O’Neill, Head of Service Policies at STIF, an important objective of the trial is to explore the question of user behavior for these autonomous shuttles:

« Est-ce qu’ils vont coller leurs chewing-gums partout et voler les sacs ? »

Will a machine without a driver, without a human presence, be the privileged scene of vandalism and even crime? Does automation encourage aggression? Will the incivilities of public transportation also manifest themselves in shared autonomous vehicles? It should be noted that the shuttles are equipped with a video surveillance system. To be continued …

At the heart of the mobility transition: a change in user behavior

It is difficult to “switch” habits in terms of mobility – for example, towards more carpooling – emphasized Yann Marteil, General Manager of Via ID during the conference. To better address the issue of changing behavior, it is necessary to specify which territories will be affected, said Catherine Goniot (DGA Espaces Publics Mobilité Durable, Metropole Rouen Normandie). For example, it is very important to understand that there is a divide between the countryside and the city concerning the abandonment of the automobile. This geographical divide is also a social divide, between managers and workers.

Goniot emphasizes that the “acceptability” of a change in mobility is at the heart of the problem: “Am I ready to leave my car? In Rouen, the inhabitants would like to have a city center without cars – but especially without other people’s cars.

Berthil De Fos, President of the Chronos research firm contradicts: To change behavior, it’s not education that counts, but the development of better alternatives. According to a survey conducted in 2016 by his firm (a summary can be found here), a “rebound” in the use of the personal car is to be noted. 80% of those surveyed therefore plebiscite car ownership.

It is therefore necessary to develop alternatives: The example of Kopenhagen shows that the development of cycling is a desirable scenario for other cities: a cost-benefit analysis of bicycle use in the city showed that each kilometer traveled by car costs the city 0.15 euros, while the city gains 0.16 euros for each kilometer traveled by bicycle.

Thinking about mobility in context

Another important argument is put forward by Prof. Carlos Moreno, International Smart City Expert.

He reminds us that mobility is only one dimension of urban development. It is part of a fundamental, broader question: “In what city do we want to live?” To understand user behavior – and to change it – we must therefore look at housing, work, leisure, culture and education.

Secondly, Moreno also emphasizes the importance of such different territories: when we talk about mobility, we must always specify which city we are talking about. Tokyo, for example, decided 15 years ago to ban diesel from the city. In Amsterdam, bike sharing is not interesting, because 75% of the inhabitants own their own bike. And yet, a bike sharing service exists, but it is rather for tourists. In Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, transportation on all bus and streetcar lines is free and it works very well. The cities of Medellin and Kigali consider trips as a “place to live”, not just as a connection between A and B.

F. Kröger

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